Have you ever heard of a movie being made based on trading cards? We bet you have and maybe didn’t even know it. Take, for instance, the 1996 Tim Burton movie, Mars Attacks! It can now be seen for free on YouTube Movies and was based on a set of Topps trading cards released in 1962.
You can watch Mars Attacks! free right here:
The movie follows the basic premise behind the trading cards. Tim Burton brings together an immense cast to get zapped into oblivion by the invading Martians, which include Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Benning, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, football legend Jim Brown, and singing legend Tom Jones. It’s an impressive lot with many not even making it out of the first reel.
The story begins with a Martian saucer leaving Earth to go back to Mars and bring a colony with them in a return to Earth. U.S. President Dale (Nicholson) first addresses the nation about this historic event, then has his science aides set up the first contact with the seemingly peaceful Martians.
The Ambassador of Mars, using a translation machine, announces to the world that they come in peace. To signify peace, a hippy releases a dove, which the Ambassador shoots down. He, along with his fellow Martians, then proceed to disintegrate anything and everything standing in their way. Big-name stars go down and it isn’t a pretty sight.
The assumption by President Dale is that the Martians thought the dove was a symbol of war instead of peace, so he asks Professor Kessler (Brosnan) to renegotiate with the angry Martians. The Ambassador of Mars agrees, asking to speak to the US Congress. Once they are all together, the Martians do their Martian thing and massacre most of congress.
From there, the mayhem only gets worse. The Martians extend their destruction to more popular spots across the globe. D.C. is gone. Europe is being invaded. You name it, the Martians have found it. When the Martians reach President Dale, he implores them to stop. He gives the Martians an impassioned speech about peace and for a moment, it seems to have taken hold. That is until the Martian leader uses a weapon that was disguised as his hand to kill the president.
Meanwhile, a small group of survivors, led by former world champion boxer Byron Williams (Jim Brown), attempt to flee to safety via a small jet. Some make it, others don’t. During this time, survivor Richie (Lukas Haas) discovers that Martian’s heads explode when they hear the song “Indian Love Call” by Slim Whitman. The song was actually made popular in the mid-1920s by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald then again in the 1936 movie Rose Marie starring both Eddy and MacDonald. Anyway, Richie and his grandmother Florence (Sylvia Sidney) then drive around town blaring the song, exploding the heads of every Martian within earshot.
It is a recipe for success. Word gets out that the song will kill the Martians. But who will be left standing to see this through?
Mars Attacks! was first pitched 11 years prior to it actually being made but never made the cut. Screenwriter Jonathan Gems then came up with his own idea and took it to Tim Burton, with whom the screenwriter had written a number of unproduced scripts. Burton loved the idea, and the duo was off and running, though it took 12 drafts of the script until Burton was satisfied.
Warner Bros. was satisfied too, ponying up $80 for Burton to play with. That, on top of the nearly $20 million Warner Bros. put into advertising the movie, brought the total budget to $100 million. Unfortunately for Warner Bros. and Tim Burton, Mars Attacks! was considered a box office bomb. In total, Mars Attacks! brought in only $101.4 million at the box office.
The movie owes its existence to a set of 1962 trading cards published by Topps. The set, which now can fetch a serious amount of money, gained notoriety shortly after their release for their gore, graphic violence, and their implied sexuality. The card’s story was written by Len Brown and Woody Gelman with artists Wally Wood and Norman Saunders handling the drawings. It was the shock of parents that eventually stopped the production of the card set. According to Marty Quinn, an owner of several Mars Attacks! sets, “The rumor is that back in the 1960s when kids came home with these cards, their moms said, ‘Oh my God. Where did you buy these cards?'” he said via PSACard.com. “Parents were really in a bit of an uproar.” Now, certain single cards from the original set can grab $3,500 or more at card auctions.
As for the movie itself, Mars Attacks! is actually a fun movie. Who doesn’t love seeing big-name actors, and congress for that matter, get dissolved into dust by invading Martians? It’s a crazy premise, one that is distinctly Tim Burton but does the job it is intended to do. Entertain. Plus, you can see it for free!